23 July 2013

The Next Big Thing

It's been a while since I did a grand-scale dress project, and I've got the itch. I'm pretty excited about the next thing I'm going to be working on.

Here's the setting: 1490-1500 Flemish - contemporary to the Henry VII era in England. We've got square (or W) necklines, but still a natural, mostly unstiffened silhouette. Waistlines have dropped back down after the V-neck Burgundian gown. Sleeves are still closely fitted, but might have just a hint of a bell around the lower arm. Skirts are flat at the waist and flared to the hem, at least in the front, although there is some fullness starting to gather in the back. Hats have come back down to earth, with black lappets and veils, but are still simple compared to the gable headdress and French hoods that will come later.

Project plan: I'm starting with the middle layer, a kirtle. I've got medium-weight black worsted wool from Mood Fabrics. Bodice to be cut from my basic cote pattern, straight front with eyelets for lacing, linen canvas for some support, and it should just need a new neckline. It'll have short sleeves, and I just need to decide if I want plain gored skirt or some pleats in the back. The Tudor Tailor books mention wool lining for this layer, but I think that'll be intolerably warm for the settings where I'll be wearing this - probably a lightweight linen lining, and even then maybe only the bodice. The chemise should be pretty easy once I've got the neckline set on the kirtle. And for the outer gown I've got some lovely red wool in the stash. I might do wool with wool lining for the gown - currently leaning toward a white wool flannel or similar. Last up is headgear, I've already got suitable jewelry, and the deadline for the whole thing is next March. No problem, right?

Resources: The Tudor Tailor and Queen's Servants books are really good for this, despite being concentrated a bit later and a different country there are a lot of similarities. Amalia Zavattini has a good collection of material, especially the image bibliography, although the focus is a broader than what I'm going for here. Mary-Grace of Gatland also has some inspiration pictures.

Guiron le Courtois, fol. 009r
Annals of Hainaut, fol. 028r

Book of Hours, MS Douce 72, fol. 002v
Book of Hours, MS Douce 72, fol. 045r (David and Bathsheba)
Book of Hours, MS Douce 72, fol. 077f
Book of Hours, MS Rawl. liturg. e. 36, fol. 090v
Book of Hours, MS Buchanan e. 3, fol. 032v
Book of Hours, MS Buchanan e. 3, fol. 037r
Le roman de la rose, MS Douce 195, fol. 001r
Le roman de la rose, MS Douce 195, fol. 002r
Le roman de la rose, MS Douce 195, fol. 007r
Founder's and benefactors' book of Tewkesbury abbey, MS Top. Glouc. d. 2, fol. 015r

... and that's just what I found in the Bodleian's digital collection; I'll be trawling some other collections later.

19 July 2013

When it ceases to be fun, it ceases to be

Although no one but me's keeping track, it's been four years since I started this surcoat. And it is still not finished, although it's way closer than it was this time a year ago.

So, what happened to this obviously ill-fated project?

This surcoat was always intended to be hand sewn. That's not a problem; I hand sew a lot of things. But for some reason, and I don't even remember why, I decided that I was going to sew this with the same threads that the fabric was woven from. Maybe I had trouble getting a decent color match, maybe I just wanted to try working with a wool thread, but I decided I would get my thread by unraveling small sections of the main fabric. I know that other people have done this successfully. But for this project, it was a Bad Plan. A Very Bad Plan.

You see, this is a very fine lightweight wool. And the singles from which it is woven are also very fine, too fine and too weak to sew with. So they had to be plied - roll the ends between your fingers to build twist (but not too much, or it will break), fold it in half on itself and allow it coil. This is a lot of work, and I'd be lucky to get an 8 inch length to sew with. Even then, it might snag, or break, or untwist while I was sewing. It should be easy to see how, before much progress at all was made, this project began to sit in the basket untouched for longer and longer periods of time.

Friends, when a project inspires such dread of working on it that you'd rather pretend it didn't exist, it is well past time for the project to change. And so I made a simple change: I started over with different thread. A plain cotton thread in a contrasting light grey color. It's still handsewn. It's still the same pattern. And I still have more frustration than love for the project (have I mentioned that the fabric frays extremely easily, even when you're not trying to unravel it?), but at least it's going to get done. Someday. Maybe even someday soon. And if I want to sew with wool thread, I'll find a commercial source for something that's made for that purpose.